Is It Healthier To Skip Washing Your Hair?

Is It Healthier To Skip Washing Your Hair?

The average woman spends about 23 minutes styling/drying her hair, according to one report. So, if, say, half of that time is spent on blow-drying, on top of the 22 minutes she spends in the shower (again, let's say half of that is spent washing and conditioning hair), a daily hair-washer is dedicating more than two and a half hours each week to maintaining her locks. But what if she just ... stopped?

While nearly 40 percent of women shampoo on a daily basis, according to a survey conducted by Women's Health magazine, there seems to be a growing number of women (and men) who are ditching the monotony of daily showers in hopes of getting healthier, prettier hair.

And these people -- part of what has been dubbed the "no 'poo movement" -- are gaining momentum, sometimes even going weeks without washing. Jessica Simpson is doing it. So is Robert Pattinson. In a recent article for W magazine, writer Christa Souza chronicled her journey of going a whopping six weeks without washing her hair (check out her journey, dubbed "The Great Unwashed," here). And designer brand Proenza Schouler's CEO Shriley Cook recently told Into The Gloss that she stopped washing her hair six weeks ago.

There have long been groups of people in the United States, of course, whose hair type doesn't require daily washing. African American women, for instance, will often report only needing to wash their hair once every one to two weeks, says Amy McMichael, M.D., a dermatologist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She also says women of Hispanic descent tend to wash their hair less often, as it's typically on the thicker side. People with oilier, thinner hair are usually the ones who become frequent washers.

But while there's an obvious timesaving benefit to skipping the daily wash, is it healthier for your hair and scalp?

"By no means do I think it's a necessity of health to wash your hair ever day," McMichael says, explaining that the habit has developed more out of our hygiene culture of "good smells" than of any real necessity. Yet that doesn't necessarily mean the opposite is true. "I don't know that there's any scientific basis that washing the hair less is more healthy either."

The scalp and the hair are two different entities -- the scalp is the "living part," which needs to be cleansed of oils to stay healthy, while the hair is the "dead part" that can become dried out after washing with a too-harsh shampoo.

The argument is that lathering up on a daily basis strips the hair of important, healthy oils that can cause it to break off over time. And while those detergent aspects of shampoo may be good for your scalp, they can take a toll on your hair, says Louise O'Connor, owner of 0C61 salon in New York City. She recommends skipping a day between shampoos and, if needed, just rinsing it and putting a little conditioner through the hair to keep it healthy. When you do wash, she says to be careful to only cleanse the scalp and hairline instead of lathering up the whole way down to your ends, which can be very abrasive to the hair.

For oily-haired girls who want to give no-shampoo a try, O'Connor suggests using dry shampoo on off days soak up the grease and give the hair some texture. Apply it to the roots and work it through, she says, and then go over the whole thing with a hairdryer.

But for those who want to take "no poo" beyond a few days, though, proceed with caution when it comes to the health of your scalp. People with dandruff, for instance, will find that not washing hair just makes the problem worse, says George Costarellis, M.D. a dermatologist and director of the University of Pennsylvania Hair and Scalp Clinic.

And skipping the lather may also stunt hair growth. "If you take it to the extreme and you don't wash your hair for a week or so, the dead hairs will accumulate in the scalp," Costarellis says. Getting that dead hair out can stimulate new hair to grow in, and he says he's also seen patients who have gone so long without cleansing that the hair has become matted to a point where it needs to be cut out.

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